Reds bask in rare South African glory
SAMU Kerevi was scheduled to sit this one out but instead led the gutsy Queensland Reds to their first victory in Durban for 15 years as an irresistible man of the match.
The 21-14 drought-breaker against the Sharks early on Saturday morning (AEST) was a triumph of willpower, defence and flashes of try-scoring brilliance.
So much of it was pure willpower as captain Kerevi stepped up to show the way after the Reds' awful 32-17 crash landing in Pretoria against the Bulls just six days earlier.
Captain Kerevi had been earmarked to miss the Sharks match as part of the workload management plan devised for top Wallabies.
It was postponed because his absence would have left such a void and there was no way the Reds would have won as 10-point underdogs without him.
Who else was going to power through 15 ball-carries for 95m, make two line breaks, pinball through seven tackles, figure in two tries and inspire for 80 minutes?
No.8 Scott Higginbotham is 32 but not another member of the starting pack has celebrated a 23rd birthday.
Coach Brad Thorn's backing of the "Department of Youth" had one of its biggest pay-offs in the pack.
Rookie prop Harry Hoopert, even with his mohawk haircut, Alex Mafi, Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Izack Rodda, Angus Scott-Young and Liam Wright will all cherish this win as part of their coming of age in Super Rugby.
"Seven of the eight in the forward pack were 20 to 22. I'm proud of that, they're young Queenslanders coming through and there's a future there with them," Thorn said.
"I think people are enjoying seeing all this fresh blood come through (because) the club has battled (since last making the finals in 2013).
"As you can see they're having their moments. I felt today there was a solid game put out there."
Young flanker Wright finished his best game of the season by earning a forced penalty when latching on to the ball as the Sharks made a final attack.
The win keeps the Reds (18 points) in the hunt in the Australian Conference, with a 4-5 win-loss record, but celebrating the team's first victory in South Africa since 2015 comes first.
The Reds were switched on from the outset with impressive lock Rodda deflecting the opening Sharks' lineout throw, which became a chance for young hooker Mafi to sprint 25m.
The opportunity wasn't wasted with flyhalf Bryce Hegarty spotting two forwards ahead of him on a follow-up phase. He sliced through and the Reds were ahead 7-0 inside two minutes.
It was 14-0 after 18 minutes when Kerevi bumped through Sharks flyhalf Robert du Preez and popped a fine try-making ball to centre partner Chris Feauai-Sautia.
The Reds did have hiccups - conceding a scrum penalty converted into a driving maul try from a lineout before half-time (14-7).
The Queenslanders kept the Sharks scoreless for 53 minutes in the middle of the match through decisive tackling, fine scrambling and staying in their defensive system.
Rodda put on one massive hit in the first half, Feauai-Sautia saved a try late in the first half with a fine covering tackle and flanker Scott-Young kept knocking down runners.
Wright earned two penalties when Sharks players failed to release the ball and he put his body on the line to prevent a grounding in the final minutes when the Sharks mauled the ball to the tryline.
It must be said that the Sharks were lamentable at times with 17 handling errors by one count.
It still took a desperate side to knock them out of rhythm and compete in every area. The Reds were up for it.
Halfback Tate McDermott had a fine game. He varied his impact too with several fine kicks for territory, sure passing to his ball runners and the decisive try.
Just before the hour mark, Kerevi beat more defenders, and the quick passing of Hegarty and Higginbotham put the ever-present McDermott over for a 21-7 scoreline.
"Thanks to the boys for putting in that massive effort," Kerevi said in his sideline interview.
"It's been a long time, 15 years since we've taken a win here, and the Sharks didn't make it easy."
REDS 21 (T McDermott, B Hegarty, C Feauai-Sautia tries; B Hegarty 2 conv, H Stewart conv) bt SHARKS 14 (K van Vuuren, D du Preez tries; C Bosch conv, R du Preez conv)